Rachael Allen, centre, an instructor at Iam Yoga, teaches a class of hot yoga in Toronto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.

Rachael Allen, centre, an instructor at Iam Yoga, teaches a class of hot yoga in Toronto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.
Photo Credit: PC / Nathan Denette

Over half of Canadian employers have no mental health strategy: report

Despite high prevalence of mental illness among working Canadians, more than half of Canadian employers have no mental health strategy in place, according to a new Conference Board survey of Canadian employers.

“I think what surprised me was that, while there are quite a few practices and programs in place – employers are now offering all types of support to employees in order to maintain their mental health – it really hasn’t been yet firmed up into a strategy or a policy to make it an organizational commitment,” said Louise Chénier, manager of Workplace Health and Wellness Research at the Conference Board of Canada.

(click to listen to the interview with Louise Chénier)

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Employers in the health, education, finance, insurance and real estate, public administration, and the utilities sectors are more likely to have implemented a mental health strategy, Chénier said.

“The prevalence of mental health conditions is higher in the service industries,” Chénier said. “Maybe they’ve had to help more employees or more employees come forward saying they require the help, so we a lot more strategies a lot more comprehensive programs in place in health, education, public sector organizations.”

Financial constrains

On the other hand, employers in traditionally male-dominated industries, like transportation and warehousing, manufacturing, construction, and natural resources, are less likely to have implemented a mental health strategy.

Over half (56 per cent) of employers who have not implemented a mental health strategy reported that this is due to limited financial resources, human resources, or time, Chénier said.

Almost a quarter (23 per cent) say mental health strategies are not a legal or legislative requirement.

And almost one-third of the 249 employers (31 per cent) surveyed for the study believe mental health is not an issue in their workplace.

“That probably means that employees in that organization are not talking about mental health,” Chénier said.

There is still such a stigma around mental illness in Canada, in the workplace, that when senior leaders don’t talk about mental health, employees don’t know how they’ll react if they ask for help, so many are reluctant to use the resources that are in place, Chénier said.

Huge economic impact

Mental health is often cited as a top reason for disability leaves of absence in Canadian workplaces.

About 21 per cent of the working population currently experience mental health problems and illnesses that potentially affect their work productivity, according to a 2011 report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“Adults in their early and prime working years are among the hardest hit by mental health problems and illnesses,” said the report. “A conservative estimate of the impact of mental health problems and illnesses on lost productivity due to absenteeism, presenteeism (present but less than fully productive at work) and turnover is about $6.3 billion in 2011; this will rise to $16 billion in 2041.”

Healthy Brains At Work: Employer-Sponsored Mental Health Benefits and Programs is the second of a four-part series that explores the importance of addressing mental health and mental illness in Canadian workplaces.

The Conference Board of Canada will host a one-day conference related to this issue titled Healthy Canada: Healthy Brains Across the Lifespan on March 2, 2016 in Toronto.

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